Have A Think #2: Criminal Philanthropists et al.

This week let's look at the roles Chris Eccleston played through his career, in general.
Those who are familiar with several of his films, tend to form one of the following opinions: That he plays villains best, that he plays good persons best, or, the happy medium, that 'it's all about the grey zones'.

For how do you decipher these characters? There was Red Scharlach, criminal philanthropist; cracked accountant David; Nicky Hutchinson whom Eccleston himself called anti-hero; Norfolk and his pride; Leo Zhukovsky, a man who was his mission; Vindici, Jacobean Man Without A Name; Major Henry West, one man squad of despair. And these are just the most obvious examples.

So, the question is, which role forced you to make the most memorable double take? Did you find yourself rooting for the 'wrong' person in a certain movie? Was there a particular occasion when Eccleston's approach changed your perception of the film? Made you adjust your opinion after you thought about it? Which character do you find hardest to put in this or other box?

2009-07-07

11 comments:

Tarot said...

I can tell you that as the Ninth Doctor, Chris had my total attention. I'd been watching Doctor Who since 1978 but as far as I am concerned, Chris is "my Doctor," because he was just that amazing. Then he showed up on Heroes (which I'd been watching since its premiere) and Chris stole my heart as Claude. And we saw Claude steal plenty of stuff on screen.

As far as rooting for "the wrong side" I would have to say that Chris as the Rider in The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising falls into that category. Saw that 9 times in the theater. Sure he's evil but tell me the Rider doesn't have massive presence or charisma!

I have a strange suspicion I may end up cheering on M.A.R.S./Cobra in the upcoming GI Joe movie. The Destro I remember was a very complicated character and between what I know of Chris' talents and what his fellow GI Joe cast members have remarked on Chris performance, that might be enough to have me rooting for the "villains."

powerjen51 said...

It's really difficult trying to pinpoint a definite role that Christopher has done that I could recommend to friends watching.

Each character he has portrayed either on television, film or even live theatre (which I have seen him twice in four years) he has brought flesh and bone, each one a different personality to the one before.

You can't say for example, Nicky Hutchinson from "Our Friends In The North" has the same emotions as The Doctor in "Doctor Who. Or that Jude Fawley in "Jude" was the same as Derek Bentley in "Let Him Have It".

He has a raw edge that pushes you to the tipping point that you actually felt the knife go into DCI Billborough stomach in "Cracker" or you felt the tears of Trevor Hicks in "Hillsborough"

Christopher has woven his craft over the last twenty-one years that it is sometimes very annoying not to see him in more drama than you do. It is very special and rare to see such an actor convey such passion as the way Christopher does.

Alex said...

Tarot> Yes, Claude's kleptomania includes our hearts =) If more seriously, I would say he is one of the characters that due to Eccleston's full-on performance could be allowed a wider - and more suspicious - navigational space.

I don't actually have doubts that his villains can be far more interesting than supposedly good characters. Although going to watch The Seeker 9 times _is_ crazy =) But don't ask me how many times I'd have gone to the cinema if something like Revengers Tragedy or Shallow Grave premièred...

Neither do I have doubts as to my allegiance to M.A.R.S./Cobra. Although they haven't been known for _ever_ hitting the target they're shooting at, I'm giving them another chance. 'We'll always have Paris. Not!'

Powerjen51> Totally agree with your assessment of Eccleston's craft. But is there a role you could forgo all others for? A specific aspect of portrayal that speaks to you?

Emotions, they are incredibly different, that's one of the reasons there aren't two roles alike, even excluding all genre and plot variations.
Solidness, the way he sort of over-saturates his performance - empowering directors to do wonderful things, - and the edge is what makes him an exceptional artist.

JayP said...

You've pulled me out of deep lurkdom with this question. I've enjoyed all of the Eccleston performances I've been able to see - many of them an indecent amount ;)

There is however one villain he definitely had me rooting for - his Ben Jago(Iago) in Othello was fabulous. Chis didn't stint on the evil in his portrayal and Jago is an evil character doing evil things. Yet throughout he showed that tiny bit of pain behind Jago's nasty actions. I've seen that play many times, yet I really wanted it all to work out for them this time and I think that is due to Chris' acting. Every emotion I've seen him project feels true to me - a fierce talent.

Alex said...

Hi JayP, thanks for joining the discussion.

Ben Jago - absolutely. The rewrite had given him a clearer motive for the spectacular vindictive plot, but it was Eccleston who really charged the character - and manipulates the viewers as well. You may understand Jago, but it hits twice as hard when you see such scenes like interrogation of the police officer. Remember the show Jago puts on, tears and all? Totally knocked me out.

KarenP said...

Another lurker coming out of the woodwork here :-)

I'm kind of surprised that nobody has mentioned the Stephen Baxter role in The Second Coming. I'd definitely be hard-pressed to name one role I'd forsake all the others for, but that one's a neck-in-neck contender with the 9th Doctor for me.

That role runs such an emotional gamut, and every single turn of the character is completely believable.

One of the interesting things about the roles Eccleston plays is that although many of them are arguably villians, none (except maybe the Rider) are entirely bad. And even the Rider looked after his mum :-)

joanr16 said...

His Ben Jago(Iago) in Othello was fabulous.

Yes, oh yes. I rented the DVD, watched it halfway through, ran to the computer, logged on to amazon.com and bought myself a copy. That raging rant in the police station corridor, and the moment immediately following, in the street, when Jago coolly comments on his own explosion; simply magnificent. In that sequence we see two of Chris's greatest "bad-guy" strengths: sudden, shocking, emotional violence, and controlled, almost icy intelligence.

Revenger's Tragedy I bought sight unseen, and I never regretted it for a second. In fact, the "Art thou beguil'd now" scene is probably my favorite; that, and Vindici's first interaction with his sister. There's a lot of pain clearly visible on the surface with Vindici, which strikes me as rather rare for an Eccleston baddie.

Among my absolute favorite Eccleston performances, the Doctor and Steven Baxter would count as heroes, although highly complicated ones; this meditation is on the bad guys, so I'll save my praise of those roles for another day. I will add, though, that that's a key word: complicated. Chris Eccleston's best performances (imo) are of highly complex personalities. The notion of a "criminal philanthropist" seems to suggest that.

Alex said...

Welcome KarenP.
The Second Coming is simply out of the scale, speaking about turns and levels of the character. Btw, the review is coming soon.

The Rider and his mum =) You're right, even the black of the Darkness has shades...
Probably the vilest role was General Ford from Sunday, where, paradoxically, a real life person was completely denied nuances.

Joanr16>
In that sequence we see two of Chris's greatest "bad-guy" strengths: sudden, shocking, emotional violence, and controlled, almost icy intelligence.

QFT. To a certain degree you can see that on stage with Kelman too.

So you must approve of the blog title then? =)

Vindici - while he's not necessarily better than other people, nobody is better than him either. His motives are understandable, and unlike Jago's, unselfish. Therefore his vulnerability works really well.

I like the way the whole film is built around his quest, in cadences: Step forward, setback, reaction; that is repeated three or four times, each time new info drives him closer to the ledge. He's eventually freed from his past, but even if he walked - would there have been a future for him?

Chris Eccleston's best performances (imo) are of highly complex personalities.

QFT again.

joanr16 said...

So you must approve of the blog title then? =)

Yes, it's brilliant!

This may be a dumb question, but... what does "QFT" mean? (I hope not, "Well, duh," although I probably was stating the obvious!)

Really looking forward to your analysis of The Second Coming. And I must add belated, heartfelt thanks for your time-lapse reviews of Doll's House. They're a real treat for those of us stuck on The Wrong Side of the Pond.

Alex said...

Joanr16> Thanks!

And sorry - it means quoted for truth.

Glad you enjoyed the theatre reviews. Unfortunately I won't be seeing the play in the very end of the run, which could have been enormously interesting, as I keep hearing about new small changes.

JayP said...

Lots of interesting thoughts all around.

Jago - "manipulates the viewers as well" and "in the street, when Jago coolly comments on his own explosion; simply magnificent" Alex and joanr16, I agree with both of you on this. I love that such a bad guy is our window into this story and the charm and charisma Chris gives him in these moments really develops the character into a real person for me.

KarenP - right there with you on "Second Coming" being one of my favorite heroes of his work. Stephen Baxter is such a vulnerable guy completely overwhelmed by his circumstances with those flashes of power and confidence. Although I have to say that one of the reasons I have rewatched it so often is Lesley Sharp. I'd love to see the two of them do more together.

I could go on and on about other performances - Thanks for the great discussion.